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Fb2 Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories (The Connoisseur's Collections) ePub

by Michael Sims

Category: Classics
Subcategory: Fiction
Author: Michael Sims
ISBN: 1408818639
ISBN13: 978-1408818633
Language: English
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK (October 1, 2011)
Pages: 576
Fb2 eBook: 1207 kb
ePub eBook: 1867 kb
Digital formats: docx txt rtf mobi

I kept exploring the field of Victorian detective stories, and the result, almost four decades after I opened The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, is The Dead Witness.

I kept exploring the field of Victorian detective stories, and the result, almost four decades after I opened The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, is The Dead Witness. Investigators hail from England, Scotland, Australia, Canada, France, and the United States. You will find female and male detectives, police officers and private investigators, a Canadian half-native backwoods detective, a blind man, and a teenage boy-characters ranging the moral spectrum from Father Brown to Jack the Ripper. In the long view of history, detectives are a recent phenomenon.

The greatest ever anthology of Victorian detective stories, The Dead Witness gathers the finest police and .

The greatest ever anthology of Victorian detective stories, The Dead Witness gathers the finest police and private detective adventure stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a wide range of overlooked gems. The Dead Witness', the 1866 title story by Australian writer Mary Fortune, is the first known detective story by a woman, a suspenseful clue-strewn manhunt in the Outback.

Michael Sims is the author of acclaimed nonfiction books such as The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A. .I don't think this book should be read as just another collection of Victorian detective stories. It's really a history of the genre told through stories

Michael Sims is the author of acclaimed nonfiction books such as The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination, and Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form. His anthologies include The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime and Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories. He lives in western Pennsylvania. It's really a history of the genre told through stories. Each selection is introduced by a short essay about the author and the significance of the piece.

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The greatest ever anthology of Victorian detective stories, The Dead Witness gathers the finest police and private detective adventure stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a wide range of overlooked gems. 'The Dead Witness', the 1866 title story by Australian writer Mary Fortune, is the first known detective story by a woman, a suspenseful clue-strewn manhunt in the Outback. This forgotten treasure sets the tone for the whole anthology as surprises appear from every direction, including more female detectives and authors than you can find in any other anthology of its kind. Pioneer women writers such as Anna Katharine Green and C. L. Pirkis take you from rural America to bustling London, introducing you to female detectives from Loveday Brooke to Dorcas Dene and Violet Strange. In other stories, you will meet November Joe, the Canadian half-Native backwoods detective who stars in 'The Crime at Big Tree Portage' and demonstrates that Sherlockian attention to detail works as well in the woods as in the city. Holmes himself is here, too, of course - not in another reprint though - but in the first two chapters of A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes case, in which the great man meets and dazzles Watson. Authors range from luminaries such as Charles Dickens to the forgotten author who helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', the first real detective story. Bret Harte is here as is Mark Twain, with his small-town lawyer detective. Naturally Wilkie Collins couldn't be left behind. Michael Sims's new collection reveals the fascinating and entertaining youth of what would mature into the most popular genre of the twentieth century.
Comments to eBook Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories (The Connoisseur's Collections)
Steel balls
It's an anthology of Victorian era mysteries, and the introductions to the authors are wonderful. So interesting and informative!
Huston
This book is a good resource for anyone who enjoys the genre of detective mysteries. The author prefaces every story and excerpt with historical information about the author and the character he (and even she!) created.
Dakora
Editorial selections are the result of detailed knowledge & critical perception. General introduction & introductions to each story are usefully informative & astute. The book as a whole presents a wide array of stories indicative of the era's interests in, limitations of, and gradual productive enhancement of criminal investigation.
mIni-Like
Exceeded my expectations of the book. Great introductions for each author that set the stage for each story. Definitely worth your money.
Rias
A fun read. Just about all the stories were interesting. A good collection of detective stories and mysteries. A great evening or bedtime read. I was not aware of all those authors and the stories they told. If you are looking for something to take a break from long book and read something short and interesting these stories fit the bill.
Fomand
The cover and the pages show some folds, which I think are done by accident. but overall, a good bargain!
Dorizius
Collections of short stories are often a "mixed bag". In many ways, that's because not all of us have the same taste, so it's great to have stories that cater to many types of readers. In others, it's because the editor wants to get fans of certain authors interested, so the editor gets a few "big names" and then some lesser known or even new authors. And, even though sometimes that leads to misunderstanding, it also can be good for the reader, as we then get to find a new favorite author.

Here, none of the authors can really be counted as "new" as most of them wrote back in the time of Queen Victoria. Of course we have the seminal Victorian detective (in fact, perhaps The Great Detective), Sherlock Holmes, but we also have Dupin, Mark Twain, and other favorites.

Of course, every editor has a slant- and here Michael Sims wants to show us that women also wrote mysteries and there were also plenty of tales back then of woman detectives, something many of us weren't familiar. Of course, when you introduce lesser known writers, sometimes the writer isn't up to par (but then, who can really compare to Mark Twain and A. Conan Doyle). Still, I enjoyed many of these stories quite a bit. "The Murder at Troyte's Hill" by Catherine Louisa Pirkis was quite interesting as it featured a woman as a known respected PROFESSIONAL detective.

It starts out with the editors own well written intro to detective fiction, especially the history of said stories:

"In the long view of history, detectives are a recent phenomenon. Crime is not. As archaeologists often demonstrate, deception, theft, and violence haunted society even before we left caves or invented agriculture. Consequently, because our imagination is as natural as our penchant for brutality, crime has flourished as a cultural theme from Antigone to Law & Order.
Many people think that Sherlock Holmes was among the earliest detectives in literature. In The Dead Witness, however, he doesn't appear chronologically until about halfway through, because he had numerous ancestors. Among the legion of villains and heroes in world literature are a handful of fascinating proto-detectives who waxed Sherlockian long before Loveday Brooke and November Joe and the other characters you will meet in this book. These figures insist upon the importance of justice and evidence in criminal cases -- rather than accusation and torture -- or demonstrate a rational approach to problem solving. They pay attention and theorize about what they observe. While the stories in this volume are adventurous, suspenseful, and sometimes amusing, the detectives in them behave in many ways like scientists, luxuriating in the act of reasoning while benefitting from its practical results.
The biblical Daniel seems to have been the first fictional detective. Aside from his roles as interpreter of dreams, tamer of lions, killer of dragons, and spouter of visions and prophecies, Daniel participates in a couple of thorny criminal cases. First he solves the earliest locked-room mystery on record, which is also an expose of the follies of idol worship. ...."

I am giving this ***** even tho some of the stories aren't quite up to snuff.
Michael Sims begins his anthology of Victorian detective stories with an interesting introduction where he gives a potted history of the detective in literature, going back as far as Daniel in the Bible! Much of this is ground that has been covered many times, of course, but Sims doesn't only stick to British detectives, as many of these anthologies tend to, so some of the information about early writings from America was unfamiliar to me. And he ranges more widely than usual in his selection of stories too, taking us to Australia, Canada, and even the American wilderness.

Sims brings in several writers I haven't come across before, and in particular some of the early women writers of detective fiction. The stories are presented in chronological order and, before each one, he gives a little introduction – a mini-biography of the author, putting them into the context of the history of the development of the genre.

Overall, I found this collection more interesting than enjoyable. Unfortunately, my recent forays into classic crime have left me feeling that there's a good reason many of these forgotten authors and stories are forgotten. Often the stories simply aren't very good, and I'm afraid that's what I felt about many of the early stories in this anthology. The later ones I tended to find more enjoyable, partly, I think, because the detective story had developed its own form by then which most authors rather stuck to.

The book is clearly trying not to regurgitate the same old stories that show up in nearly every collection and that is to be applauded. However, some of the selections didn't work for me, and I felt on occasion that the choices were perhaps being driven too much by a desire to include something different. For example, there are a couple of selections that can't count as detective fiction at all – a newspaper report from the time of the Ripper killings, and an exceedingly dull extract of Dickens writing about his experiences of accompanying the police on a night shift, with Dickens at his most cloyingly arch. How I longed for Sims to have chosen an extract from Bleak House instead, to show one of the formative fictional detectives in action, Inspector Bucket.

It also seemed very disappointing to me that Sims should have chosen to use a short extract from A Study in Scarlet as his only Holmes selection. As a master of the short story form and major influence on detective fiction, I felt Conan Doyle should have had a complete entry to himself, and there are plenty of stories to choose from. We do get a complete Holmes pastiche in Bret Harte's The Stolen Cigar-Case, which is quite fun, and a good Ernest Bramah story, whose Max Carrados clearly derives from Holmes. But no actual Holmes story!

There is also an extract from Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, which kindly gives away the ending of the book, thus spoiling it completely for anyone who hasn't read it. And an utterly tedious extract from one of Dumas' Musketeer books, for which my note says simply 'short, but not short enough'.

However, there are several good stories in the collection, too, many of which I hadn't read before. The Murders in the Rue Morgue puts in its obligatory appearance (and yet no Holmes! You can tell I'm bitter...). There's an interesting story from William Wilkie Collins, The Diary of Anne Rodway, where the detection element might be a bit flimsy and dependent on coincidence, but it's well written, with a strong sense of justice and a sympathetic view of the poorer members of society.

The title story, The Dead Witness by WW (the pen-name of Mary Fortune), is apparently the first known detective story written by a woman. The plot is a little weak, but she builds up a good atmosphere and there's a lovely bit of horror at the end which works very well. I particularly enjoyed Robert Barr's The Absent-Minded Coterie, which has a nicely original bit of plotting, is well written and has a good deal of humour. Sims suggests Barr's detective, Mr Eugene Valmont, was the inspiration for Agatha Christie's Poirot. Hmm... on the basis of this story, I remain unconvinced.

So a bit of a mixed bag for me, really. I admire the intention more than the result overall, though the stronger stories towards the end lifted my opinion of it. One that I'm sure will appeal to anyone with an existing interest in Victorian detective fiction, but wouldn't necessarily be the first anthology I'd recommend to newcomers wanting to sample some of the best the period has to offer. 3½ stars for me, so rounded up.
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